In the end, Welcome to Chippendales was nothing more than the sad story of a sad sack who could not stop getting in his own way. A paranoid man who saw any setback as part of a dark conspiracy against him. A striver who couldn’t let himself enjoy the good life, who didn’t know when to say when. The implication has been that Steve, who started on his journey toward extreme wealth with nothing, just couldn’t get comfortable inside his upgraded and opulent life.
But in the series finale, Steve becomes an active participant in pathologizing his own past. “When you’re someone like me, you can’t stop fighting,” he tells the ghost of a colleague he had assassinated (yes, there are ghosts now). Steve clarifies that “like me” means “outsider, underdog, immigrant.” Steve’s humble origins were once a handicap from success. Now, he’s repurposing them as a defense against all the ways he’s failed.
The series finale — called “Switzerland” — actually kicks off in London, five years after Nick’s murder, which I hazard brings us to roughly 1991. Despite Chippendales’ basis in “true story,” the show’s been about as reliable with dates as a Chippendales pin-up calendar (comedy rimshot, please). Adonis, a Chippys competitor run by three exotic dancers, is playing the West End because, in the early 90s, male stripping is as legit and lucrative as Sondheim.
Meanwhile, Steve’s henchman Ray finds himself on what is unmistakably a soundstage reproduction of a vintage London alley. So unconvincing is this set that I briefly wondered if Ray had taken up acting in the last five years, and some director was about to call cut on the goofy-looking scene. But no, this stagy, neon London is actually meant to be the real London. Which means the gun in Ray’s waistband is a real gun.
Just a Swiss Air flight away, Steve freely roams cobblestone streets as the Chippendales Tour takes the medieval city of Lucerne (incidentally, the birthplace of WWE journeyman Cesaro). Time must have passed because he’s meeting Ray for lunch in a fusty, Bavarian Biergarten where the waitresses are compelled to wear dirndls, but the menus come in English. That Steve is languishing in kitschy tourist traps is perhaps meant to signal that you can’t buy good taste. Or maybe the Biergarten means nothing at all — producers were simply desperate to persuade us they brought the actors to real-life Lucerne and not on a Solvang day trip.
Steve may have gotten away with murder, but he’s not free, the show assures us. He’s richer than ever, sure. He finds himself in a country with a spotty extradition record, fine. But can a man who is constantly looking over his shoulder ever really be free?! (Freer than he would otherwise be in prison, but I take the point.) These days, Steve suspects everyone. Of what? Unclear! He thinks someone — an enemy? An FBI operative? A bar-back in lederhosen? — is tailing him. It’s tempting to dismiss these concerns, but from the outset, Ray seems uncomfortable, too. When the restaurant abruptly shuts — suspicious! — Ray doesn’t miss a beat in inviting Steve back to his hotel. Even more suspicious? Ray more than once says he wants to drink beers and “keep talking.” Keep him talking! Who says stuff like that? The FBI handler who convinces you to wear a wire, that’s who.
It’s not long before the men get into what happened in London and, lol, this show is sometimes still hilarious. Apparently, Steve dispatched Ray to murder the Adonis trio, but Ray got cold feet. Instead of confessing that, he tells Steve that he lost the murder weapon in the chaotic fanfare of a parade (wot?) that just happened to march through a random back alley (no!) in the wee hours of the night (this is silly). I doubt Steve believes this nonsense or is listening much at all. And how could he listen? It’s far too distracting to watch Ray endlessly fiddle with the tab of his beer can, which I have never seen him do before. Suspicious!
On the far side of the hotel room wall lies, of course, the team of FBI agents Steve suspects are there. But because this show has lost all sense of propriety, the music grows weird and synthy when they’re revealed, which I think contributes to the overall impression that they’re actually a crack team of alien hunters. And why are they playing mysterious music at all? There is no mystery here. The man did the crimes.
So it’s particularly baffling that the series then rewinds the clock two months — another random-seeming time designation — to explain exactly how we got to this pivotal moment: the moment the unflappably loyal Ray turned on Steve in a set recycled from The Sound of Music. I’d rate my curiosity about Ray’s switcheroo as approximately five out of ten. Perhaps it would be more compelling to me if I had any real understanding of who Ray is or what undergirded the handyman’s criminal devotion to Steve in the first place.
Still, this is a recap, and thus I will recap it. Two months ago, or whenever, the cops arrested the hitman who carried out Nick’s murder, who, in turn, gave up Ray, who served as middleman. Ray flipped more or less immediately. This is all conveyed, of course, by way of mega-montage, which combines elements of a crime spree montage with elements of an interrogation, all soundtracked by the 1985 Howard Jones easy-dancing A-side “Things Can Only Get Better.” Pick a tone, any tone, I beg of you!
Eventually, we get back to present-day Switzerland, with Ray and Steve still shooting the shit by the fireside. Ray laments the passing of the old days; he misses the camaraderie of Nick, Denise, and Irene. Steve has a calculator where his heart should be. He prefers things now because now he has four clubs and three world tours and a toe-hold in Asia. He doesn’t hear from his wife; he doesn’t see his 7-year-old horse girl daughter. But he’s not lonely. He’s a maverick, a lone wolf bringing naked men to the people who need to see naked men.
Ray tries to coax Steve into saying something incriminating by being overly confessional himself; when that fails, Ray tries to goad him: “A man has got to have a conscience.” These characters have known each other for a decade, but still, Ray doesn’t know how to work Steve. Not because Ray is bad at it, but because eight episodes in, Steve is largely inscrutable. I don’t know any more than Ray does what will work on Steve, and I think that’s why this series has felt so shaky over the last few episodes. This is the story of one proud man’s rise and fall, but I still don’t know what exactly, beyond envy, makes him tick, what makes him laugh, what makes him cry.
Eventually, Ray comes clean. He did not, in fact, lose the gun in a spontaneous nocturnal parade. No, he didn’t even take it out of the hotel. He chickened out. But in this admission, he stumbles on Steve’s Achilles heel: the heedless thirst for recognition. Steve cannot stand someone else taking one iota of credit for something he believes he’s accomplished on his own — even if what he’s accomplished is as perfunctory as contracting for murder. Stolen credit is what connects Nick to the Electric Tomato he burnt down to those Adonis dancers he wanted dead. And now it connects to Ray, who, in begging forgiveness, describes his own role in facilitating Nick’s murder as more important than Steve ever deemed it. The FBI gets what it finally needs to pin the five-year-old crime on the man who obviously did it: a confession, freely given in the form of boasting.
Once back in U.S. prison, Steve’s lawyer Cheryl explains that what Steve thinks is a very bad situation is actually much worse. The feds are bringing RICO charges; if Steve loses, the government will take Chippendales, leaving Irene and his daughter with nothing. Steve is beside himself at the news, which I suppose is a tiny bit redemptive if you can ignore how colossally and improbably stupid it is. He might not have understood RICO law specifically, but am I really meant to believe that until this moment Steve thought Chippys would continue as usual even in the event he was convicted on murder-related charges?
Back in his cell, Steve is visited by Nick’s reanimated, bullet-riddled corpse, who I assume is a real ghost because, as Nick tells us, there’s no way that Steve could have known what Nick looked like after death. The funeral featured a closed casket. Across their long, unhinged conversation, Nick reiterates what Cheryl told Steve, making sure that his old boss feels extra bad about himself and his decisions.
It’s also in this belabored exchange that Steve explains that fighting is in his nature, that he’ll never stop because he can’t stop. Nick doesn’t really correct him or articulate that murder is a hard limit, even for underdogs, or that everyone who craves this bigger-than-life success probably tells themselves some story of why they deserve it more than everyone else. Steve’s personal narrative — the one he uses to make sense of his bad actions for himself — gets confused for fact.
A few hours after Jacob Marley’s visit and a few hours before Steve’s sentencing, the former owner of Chippendales dies by suicide in his cell. By some legal loophole, his death means Irene is able to inherit the whole shebang. The implication, I guess, is that Steve did it for her and his daughter — the ultimate sacrifice was also the only move he had left. Given Steve did not know what RICO was a few minutes ago, it probably would have been good to include a scene in which a lawyer explained, in an off-the-cuff manner, that the best thing he could do for his wife was hang himself, but why quibble now.
We get one last glimpse of Chippendales’ glory days, a flashback to when Otis ruled the dance floor and Steve swanned around the club, dropping compliments to his staff and delivering drinks. It made me nostalgic for better days, like the fever dream in episode two, back when Chippys was just a bunch of buff dudes rehearsing in the parking lot. Back when breakaway pants were but a kernel of an idea in Denise’s beautiful, coke-addled mind. Alas, all dreams must come to an end.
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